Auction clearance rates unreliable metric for Sydney property buyers: Douglas Driscoll

Auction clearance rates unreliable metric for Sydney property buyers: Douglas Driscoll
Auction clearance rates unreliable metric for Sydney property buyers: Douglas Driscoll


Sydney’s property market is buoyant but signs it’s still white hot should be dismissed, with clearance rates partly skewing market perceptions.

Auction clearance rates should not be the sole barometer for how the market is performing and could inadvertently spook buyers into rushing their decision, or sellers into choosing an auction sales method without considering alternatives that might achieve a better sale result for their property.

Many Australians watching the property market are unaware that auction clearance rates don’t constitute how many properties actually sell within a week. Last year the majority of properties were going to auction because it was a more efficient process and agents had confidence that these properties would almost certainly sell. Currently, there are fewer properties being sold by auction and a lot of agents are only taking the properties to auction that they perceive are guaranteed to sell. 

It’s very much a case of apples and oranges. We are still seeing almost all properties go to auction in certain pockets of the lower north shore and eastern suburbs, but this doesn’t reflect the entire market, especially when only about 10 per cent of properties go to auction in Sydney’s west – a community home to 12 percent of Australia’s entire population.

Sydney in itself is not selling a proportionate amount of properties at auction to make an accurate prognosis of the market. We are currently averaging around 300 properties going to auction over the weekends, but I think we should be looking at the results of total residential sales for the whole week, not just the auctions on the Saturday.

Rather than just using auction clearance rates as a barometer, I urge Australians to consider other metrics such as the average days on market and/or the price achieved as a percentage of the asking price. Auction clearance rates are simply a cross-section view of the market.

Here are three tips

Review number of days properties spend on the market

When the number of days on market goes down, understandably it means that the market is doing well. Likewise, when the number of days goes up, it’s generally a sign that the market might be toughening, or – for Sydney – be a sign of a stabilising market. 

How Australians can make an informed opinion: 

Last year was very much a case of a high tide floating all boats but this year, despite the market still being strong, there are various nuances across different parts of our city. We shouldn’t be looking at Sydney as a whole, but at individual suburbs, and how things are moving and changing on a much more granular level. Consumers should spend time researching by monitoring listings, specifically, how long properties are on the market for.

Finally, no one knows the area better than local real estate agents and I strongly advocate people talking to the leading agents in their local area, to ensure they are well informed about how the market is performing.

According to data from CoreLogic, about 1,000 more properties are being listed for sale than this time last year but the average days on market for Sydney properties this July was 40 days, much different to the average of 26 days in July last year. This really shows how the market is performing and my advice is to look at these independent research findings to get further insight into what’s happening on the ground. 

Assess the percent ratio of the achieved price to asking price

One way to get an accurate measure on how the market is performing is to look at the percentage ratio of the price achieved for properties against the asking price. Last year in Sydney most properties sold for the value within the price guide or above but now we’re in a situation where properties are selling within the price guide or below. But this certainly doesn’t mean the market is crashing. To make an effective prognosis of the market, we need to ensure that we’re looking at all of the facts. 

How Australians can make an informed opinion: 

Median house and unit prices are down ever so slightly from the same time last year according to CoreLogic. For units it’s about $1,400 less and for houses it’s about $15,000 less, which really isn’t much in the grand scheme of things. These days, many agents send email newsletters detailing new listings and recent sales with price achieved so my advice is to get on these lists and keep in touch with agents that you’re meeting at open for inspections. There are also some free online tools that can help consumers track the advertising history for properties, to get an indication of property sale histories or what price reductions might have occurred over the past week. 

How to determine more accurate auction clearance rates 

To make an accurate market prognosis, we need to make sure we’re looking at all the facts. In the case of auction clearance rates, there’s no automated process at reporting the results accurately. In many cases you’ll find that agents won’t disclose the details of any properties that were passed in and the problem with brushing these things under the carpet is that you’re going to get a lumpy carpet, which could cause some consumers to trip. The results are often distorted by what’s being withheld, not to mention auction clearance rates also include properties that sold prior to auction with no competitive bidding at play.

How Australians can make an informed opinion: 

Straight away, I urge consumers to take approximately 10 per cent off the clearance rates they’re seeing in the headlines. This will provide a more realistic number to make a sound market prognosis. There are many great resources available to Australians, including Cooley Auctions’ Cooley Index, which is a report on total auction volume, clearance rate, percentage sold over reserve and more, as well as a comparison to the same time the previous year. These stats are sometimes up to 10 per cent less than other reports, so given that they are highly reputable auction specialists, this in itself should motivate consumers to rethink clearance rates.

Another thing to remember is that we’re sometimes only dealing with about 200-300 properties being sold at auction here in Sydney, while Melbourne is often dealing with two to three times that amount. At those kinds of numbers, auction clearance rates are going to be a much better barometer of the Melbourne market unlike Sydney’s rates, which are tantamount to looking at the property market through a keyhole.

DOUGLAS DRISCOLL is chief executive officer of real estate agency Starr Partners.


Sydney Property market


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